Horses and poultry have shared the same living space for generations. Most horse owners have access to barns and pasture land, which are also an ideal environment for poultry. Stalls, with their rafters and spilled grain, make ideal adventure playgrounds for free-range chickens, and any cracked or extra eggs can be added to horse feed. If you are thinking of introducing poultry such as chickens, ducks or geese into your horse's environment, there are several considerations to be aware of, both positive and negative.
Poultry as Company
Horses are herd animals, and prefer to live in company. A horse kept on its own can become bored and start to develop "stable vices," a form of equine nervous tic. This is particularly likely if the owner cannot spend much time at the barn, and the horse does not get sufficient exercise or other stimulation. If it is not practical to get the horse a companion of its own species, horses will often form a happy relationship with sheep, goats or cows. A few hens pecking around a stable yard will be very beneficial for a lonely horse, and may help to reduce behavioral problems.
Other Helpful Traits
In addition to providing company, free-range chickens and other poultry can be positively useful around a barn. They will clear up any spilled grain and help prevent the spread of rodents, and will also root through a manure heap for insects and grubs, helping to aerate it for compost. Chickens in a field will also scatter piles of horse manure, exposing any parasite eggs to sunlight and helping to kill them.
Horses and poultry quickly learn to accept each other and will normally coexist happily. However, chickens in particular can learn to be cheeky at feeding time, and will often climb into buckets and mangers while the horse is still eating. Most horses are good tempered about this, but sometimes the horse will be jealous or frightened and try to drive the chicken off, potentially injuring it. Poultry often likes to nest in horses' beds, making it difficult to clean them out properly. If allowed to wander into stalls, they will often scatter droppings making it impossible to pick them up.
Health and Other Problems
When poultry and horses are kept together, there is a small risk of horses being infected with salmonella. To reduce this, speak to your veterinarian about vaccinating poultry, and always keep hen houses and other areas clean. Try to prevent horses grazing on areas that have been heavily soiled with poultry droppings, and clean out any droppings from water troughs and buckets. Some types of horse wormer are poisonous to poultry, so prevent chickens from eating droppings after horses have been dosed. If you are installing a duck pound for your poultry, make sure it is fenced off from horses. Geese can sometimes become very territorial, and may even drive horses away from water troughs or humans away from feed stores. If this becomes a problem, the geese should be securely fenced off.
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